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In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Macbeth's soliloquy found in Act Two, scene one, is often referred to as the "dagger" scene. Macbeth imagines a dagger hovering before him. This element of the supernatural is the first, seen before Duncan is murdered, because Macbeth has upset the balance of the universe by killing the God-chosen King.
First Macbeth wonders if he can believe his eyes. He also wonders if the dagger is an image or if it has substance—until he tries to grab it and is unsuccessful. Macbeth then wonders if the dagger is not the result of his "fevered brain" that is overwrought.
Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but (45)
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
Macbeth admits that the dagger seems as real to him as the one he holds in his hand as he goes to Duncan's chamber—almost leading him—looking just like the weapon Macbeth intends to use.
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall'st me the way that I was going, (50)
And such an instrument I was to use.
Macbeth imagines that his eyes are tricking him, or they are sharper than all of his other senses put together. As he watches the dagger, he notes that where it was clean before, now it is covered in blood, as if the deed were already done. He seems to mentally shake his brain to clear it, saying, "there's no such thing." He says the cause of the vision is the evil deed he is about to carry out—it's making him see things.
Mine eyes are made the fools o’ the other senses,
Or else worth all the rest. I see thee still,
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
Which was not so before. There's no such thing: (55)
It is the bloody business which informs
Thus to mine eyes.
Macbeth begins to take note of the time: it is "the witching hour," when half of the world is in darkness, sleeping—but a time when wicked dreams haunt those who sleep, witches are practicing their craft, murder takes place while the wolf howls an alarm.
Now o'er the one half-world
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain'd sleep; witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate's offerings; and wither'd Murder, (60)
Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howls his watch...
Now Macbeth compares himself to Tarquin, a Roman king, with whom Macbeth has much in common. Both commit their sins at night—the wolf howls, and each is frightened by what he is doing. Then Macbeth personifies the earth, asking that it not "hear" his steps for they might cry out in light of his intent. For while Macbeth "threatens," Duncan lives. The signal bell rings and Macbeth hopes Duncan does not hear it—it is the King's death knell.
...thus with his stealthy pace
With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear (65)
Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives;
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives. A bell rings.
I go, and it is done: the bell invites me. (70)
Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven, or to hell.
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